Equipment Control: 5 Steps to Real-Time Monitoring in Labs
Equipment control is a proactive step in lab monitoring to help prevent malfunction, reduce downtime, improve efficiency, and ensure product safety. One of the best equipment control methods is real-time temperature data monitoring. It provides visibility to both current data and trends analysis.
In addition to these, the more critical and often neglected segment is equipment control. Since lab products are often sensitive and highly susceptible to damage, lab equipment also becomes high-risk assets. The breakdown of a freezer with precious contents may mean that the lab will incur massive, irreplaceable loss.
While it may prove challenging to accurately predict equipment failure, it is vital to keep an eye out for any signs indicating an approaching fault.
ELPRO recommends equipment control that proactively checks each equipment status to ensure functionality and productivity.
A reactive mindset is disadvantageous and often offers very little room for corrective action, especially if damage to contents has already begun. Additionally, reactive monitoring only allows for repairs and cannot provide adequate data to predict faults and enhance preventive maintenance.
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One effective way of equipment control is through a proactive implementation of real-time monitoring. Monitoring is continually assessing and adjusting a process or equipment to make sure it is working as required.
Instead of waiting for a breakdown to occur, one can anticipate and prepare for it through real-time monitoring. Additionally, one can receive a continuous data feed on the equipment's functionality, collected through sensors and relayed through the communication channels.
In a lab setting, several environmental conditions may require real-time monitoring. In pharmaceutical labs, temperature and humidity can play a very critical role. Pharmaceutical products often allow a narrow margin for temperature and humidity fluctuations. If left uncontrolled, they can destroy the chemical and physical compositions of medicines and vaccines.
ELPRO provides robust temperature monitoring systems that are automated for smooth operation and seamless integration across devices and platforms.
Five Steps to Real-Time Monitoring
Implementing an efficient real-time monitoring system for equipment control relies on several important considerations.
1. Needs Assessment
A needs assessment can serve to determine the specific monitoring requirements and the parameters involved. For example, when monitoring a freezer, the inside temperature needs to maintain a specific temperature range, depending on the contents. Performing a needs assessment will help determine how robust the system must be, including power consumption ratings and output data. A temperature specific real-time monitoring system or an advanced model that incorporates other parameters – the assessment will also inform the type of sensors required as they vary in terms of operating range.
Data loggers and certain temperature probes are designed to monitor a wide range of temperatures. For example, a Pt100 sensor, or probe, can measure temperatures from -200 °C to +200 °C. Data loggers must work efficiently at temperature ranges as determined by the needs assessment and standard operating procedure (SOP).
2. Data Collection
Equipment control through real-time monitoring must employ the use of sensors. These devices perform data collection of the specified parameter.
Some data loggers do not have any connectivity, which necessitates a routine download to access the recorded data. Various models today employ different connectivity platforms, including wireless Bluetooth® connectivity, radio signal with proprietary antennas or Mobile-IoT using a public network. Through these methods, data relay to a database to facilitate access, and analysis secure storage is possible.
Moreover, technologically advanced monitoring systems can incorporate multiple sensors to detect different parameters. These sensors can connect into a single network to create efficiencies in hardware and software requirements.
Transmission of data from the data collection site to a remote storage or access portal is possible via wired or wireless means. Wireless connections offer more flexibility and are easier to install.
By leveraging the power of the Internet of Things (IoT), you can connect sensors through the internet and relay information at any time on any internet-enabled device.
4. Data Storage and Retrieval Infrastructure
For compliance and auditing, it is important to have easy and quick access to sensor data. ELPRO data loggers collect sensor data that can be easily transferred into a cloud database for storage. Once the data is stored to the cloud it can be accessed remotely via any internet-enabled device.
A key consideration in data handling is security. One must consider whether or not a data storage solution can ensure protection from third-party invasion.
Cloud storage offers secure data storage for one to retrieve data when the need arises. Aside from providing an accurate picture of equipment performance, real-time data also enables users to be proactive when temperature excursions occur during transit or in storage.
5. Warning and Correctional Mechanisms
Equipment control is not complete without a system of warnings and remedial mechanisms in place. Should environmental conditions fall below or rise above acceptable ranges, there must be a way to restore stability of the product temperature.
ELPRO recommends temperature monitoring systems that enable remote automated alarms. Users can route the warnings to various personnel to take corrective action and initiate remedial procedures.
Alarm configurations can help ensure that there are several warnings before the environmental conditions fall above or below the acceptable ranges.
Real-time monitoring in the context of equipment control has several advantages. The warning alarms allow adequate time to perform corrective steps before things get out of hand. Additionally, one can observe data trends to predict potential failure of equipment and work proactively to correct it.
Besides providing information on the current equipment status, real-time monitoring also reveals data trends vital for performance analysis.
With data from continuous monitoring, one can perform statistical process control and analysis. The analysis report helps determine how the equipment is performing and what one can do to enhance performance and efficiency.
It is important to determine if real-time monitoring is necessary to meet the requirements of a laboratory. Real-time systems provide robust “big” data that may not necessarily be useful to the operational needs of the facility.